Inflammation — and anti-inflammatory diets — have been health-and-nutrition hot topics for several years. Naturally, that means the quality of the information you might find ranges from science-based to highly questionable. Seriously, just Google it. (Wait, on second thought, don’t.)
That’s why I was glad to see a dose of sanity in the new book, “Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep” by Seattle registered dietitian Ginger Hultin, owner of ChampagneNutrition and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The most misunderstood thing about an anti-inflammatory diet is that it’s not a miracle cure,” she said, adding that while the physical effects of inflammation, including pain and fatigue, can stem from a chronically poor diet or inactive lifestyle, they can also be a side effect of a number of serious medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases. “Eating an anti-inflammatory diet works in conjunction with medical treatment that you may need for a condition and then also with getting enough sleep, controlling stress levels, not smoking, and moving your body.”
What does that diet look like? A rainbow of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, legumes — beans, lentils and soy — nuts and seeds, fatty fish (for healthy omega-3 fats, as well as protein), cocoa, herbs, spices and tea. These foods are rich in not just vitamins and minerals, but fiber and antioxidants. “There is so much misinformation out there about what’s inflammatory and what’s not,” Hultin said. “The research is really clear, actually. Many people believe that beans and soy are inflammatory but the evidence is very, very strong that those foods actually lower inflammation.”
She also busts the popular myths that nightshades (such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant and paprika) and gluten are inherently inflammatory, pointing out the research is clear that nightshades and whole grains — even gluten-containing grains — are actually anti-inflammatory for most people. “Any food that you, as a unique individual, do not tolerate or are allergic to, could be inflammatory. But it’s important not to project your personal experience onto others who may really benefit from it.”
That said, Hultin notes that some people may want to experiment with going without wheat or gluten. I asked her about that, knowing that is someone stops eating gluten and does feel better, they will be hesitant to resume eating it in order to be accurately tested for celiac disease. She agreed that anyone noticing positive changes should reach out to their medical team, but she pointed out another benefit from doing a gluten-free experiment: “Many people think they may have an issue with a food like gluten and when they eliminate it, they actually learn that it’s not the culprit. So it can be worth exploring,” she said, adding the caveat, “You never want to cut out potentially healthy foods without a good reason.”
Circling back to soy, if cooking with tofu and tempeh — which Hultin calls anti-inflammatory powerhouses — is new to you, the book includes some delicious recipes to help you make the leap. “A lot of people are just unfamiliar with how to make those foods taste good and be woven into their weekly routines,” she said. “I use a lot of simple preparation methods like sheet-pan meals and bright, flavorful marinades to showcase how delicious and easy they can be.”
And simple is the name of the game. Hultin offers six weekly prep-ahead plans starting from very basic — essentially one breakfast recipe and two lunch/dinner recipes on repeat — then increasing in variety as readers progress. “This book was written with people experiencing inflammatory symptoms in mind. That means many people who are living with a lot of pain and/or fatigue or other symptoms,” she said. “It is also written for people new to meal prepping as well as those who may be new to home cooking. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible so that starting this big change — from daily cooking to weekly cooking — is as easy as possible.” Want more variety from the start? There are more than 80 recipes in the book, so you could easily prep an additional breakfast, lunch or dinner. Such as this colorful salad.
Citrus, Beet and Chickpea Salad with Fresh Herbs
Makes 2 servings
- 2 medium red beets
- 2 medium oranges, peeled, segmented, and segments cut in half
- One 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil
- 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh dill
- ½ teaspoon maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups chopped lettuce
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Wrap beets in foil and roast them directly on the oven rack for 40 minutes to 1 hour, until they can easily be pierced with a knife.
- While the beets are cooking, place the orange slices in a medium bowl. Add the chickpeas and set aside.
- In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, mustard, basil, dill, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Pour it over the orange-and-chickpea mixture and mix gently to coat.
- Once the beets are cooked, remove them from the oven and set them aside to cool. Once they are safe to handle with bare (or gloved) hands, use your thumbs to gently peel off the outer skin. Cut them into 1-inch cubes, add them to the bowl with the oranges, chickpeas and dressing; stir gently to coat.
- To serve, pour the mixture of oranges, beets and chickpeas (which keeps in the refrigerator for up to 4 days) over the lettuce and serve cold.
Recipe excerpt from “Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep” by Ginger Hultin, published by Rockridge Press. Copyright © 2020 by Callisto Media, Inc. All rights reserved.